Our New Planting! (Part 1)
We feel fortunate that in our northern corner of Terrasses du Larzac it is a little bit cooler than further south, especially at night time. This is due to the higher elevation, but also because we are closer to the Cevennes mountains. This has a positive effect for all our wines as the grapes have higher acidity, which means more structure, elegance and ageability in white, rosé and reds. In fact, we feel that our little valley is especially suited to the production of white wines...
Not only do we have the climate suited to quality whites, but also access to a range of different varieties, which we can use to build complexity into a wine. For example, though it is not able to be used in AOP Languedoc blends, we have Sauvignon blanc in one of our cooler parcels, which is a nice link to Kirsten and Glen's New Zealand background, where Sauvignon blanc makes up more than 80% of the country's production. This variety provides a little something extra to some of our IGP white wines... :-)
So when we concluded that our Alicante Bouschet block was past its use-by date, we immediately thought to replace it with some white grape varieties! In a series of blogs we will describe what we are doing to go through the multi-year process of removing and re-planting a parcel of vines...
First, we scout the block to look for symptoms of diseases that might compromise the new vines after they're planted. In France, for example, Flavescence Dorée is of prime concern, as once vines are infected there is no cure, and the disease can be rapidly spread by leafhoppers.
The next important step was to decide what varieties to plant - based on our experience, we settled on Chenin blanc and Grenache blanc. The choice of the latter wasn't difficult, as it performs well in the area (it is a major component of nearby Rhône whites, for example, and as well, relatively small amounts can be blended into Côtes du Rhône red wine and larger amounts into rosés) and brings fruit characteristics like citrus zest and ripe pear to the table.
Chenin blanc is a bit of an unusual choice for the Languedoc - it's best known as a mainstay of the Loire, but has made a name for itself in other countries like South Africa. We feel it's a good addition due to its fruity notes of quince and fresh apple but also because it tends to retain good amounts of acidity - which, in looking toward a future of higher temperatures due to climate change, will be a desirable trait for making the best blended wines.
With the varieties decided, the choice of rootstock was next. A soil test was done, and the results were similar to those taken in a neighbouring block last year - high pH, high clay content, and low organic material content. The latter is being addressed through a change in vineyard floor management (perhaps worthy of another blog post later on!), but in dealing with high pH and clay, choosing an appropriate rootstock is the best option. Our nursery partner recommended R110, which is tolerant of high pH soils and drought, due to it's predilection for deep rooting.
With these important factors decided, we locked in our order for the vines, which needs to be more than one year in advance of when you would like to plant, which gives the nursery time to collect, graft and prepare the vines for planting.
Next was to inform the government that we were removing vines, and also to let them know that they would be replaced. Only then can you actually get to the point of removing the vines in the ground!
The first order of business was to retrieve the wire, posts and other hardware of the vineyard. This was all done by hand, cutting and folding up the wire for later collection, and then removing the posts with a post-puller (see photos, below). Once all of that is out of the way, a contractor was called in to scoop the vines out of the ground so it would be easier to remove them from the parcel.
This was done with a large tractor pulling a blade that undercuts the vines in the soil and lifts everything up into rotating bars that break up the soil and roots. From there we loaded the vines onto a trailer for disposal, and now we are working the soil to remove as many old roots as possible and cultivate the soil to make it smooth and consistent before the new vines go in.
Future posts will update you on our progress with this new and exciting development!